Who Is Liable for a Florida Boating Accident?

Injured in a Florida boating accident? Call our injury lawyers today to get started on your case.Florida means boating all year round. Boats get into and cause accidents just like cars and trucks. The injuries we see in boating accidents can be similar to or somewhat the same as the injuries we see in car and truck accidents.

When a boat collides with another boat or collides with a fixed object, often the passengers hit objects in the boat like the windshield and are severely injured or killed. Sometimes the passengers are thrown out of the boat and onto another boat, onto nearby rocks, or into the water.

There can be many different liable (at fault) parties in a boating accident. But in boating cases, maritime law almost always applies.

The operator of the boat

Boat operators of motorboats in Florida generally are not required to have a boating license. But all people who operate a recreational boat or a commercial boat (fishing, diving, partying, cruising) are required to use reasonable care. The operators of recreational and commercial boats are required to follow the Inland Rules of Navigation or the International Rules of Navigation. Those rules are incorporated into the Federal Code of Federal Regulations and therefore are Federal law. See, International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (72 COLREGS) and the U.S. Inland Navigation Rules (33 CFR 83).

Chapter 327 of the Florida Statutes is the principal set of Florida state laws which regulate the operation of a vessel in Florida waters. Florida Statute Section 327.33 provides for the specifics on reckless and careless operation:

327.33 Reckless or careless operation of vessel.

  1. It is unlawful to operate a vessel in a reckless manner. A person who operates any vessel, or manipulates any water skis, aquaplane, or similar device, in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property at a speed or in a manner as to endanger, or likely to endanger, life or limb, or damage the property of, or injure a person is guilty of reckless operation of a vessel. Reckless operation of a vessel includes, but is not limited to, a violation of s. 331(6). A person who violates this subsection commits a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082or s. 775.083.
  2. A person who operates any vessel upon the waters of this state shall operate the vessel in a reasonable and prudent manner, having regard for other waterborne traffic, posted speed and wake restrictions, and all other attendant circumstances so as not to endanger the life, limb, or property of another person outside the vessel or to endanger the life, limb, or property of another person due to vessel overloading or excessive speed. The failure to operate a vessel in a manner described in this subsection constitutes careless operation. However, vessel wake and shoreline wash resulting from the reasonable and prudent operation of a vessel, absent negligence, does not constitute damage or endangerment to property. A person who violates this subsection commits a noncriminal violation as defined in s. 08.
  3. Each person operating a vessel upon the waters of this state shall comply with the navigation rules.
    1. A person who violates the navigation rules and the violation results in a boating accident causing serious bodily injury as defined in s. 353or death, but the violation does not constitute reckless operation of a vessel, commits a misdemeanor of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.
    2. A person who violates the navigation rules and the violation does not constitute reckless operation of a vessel commits a noncriminal violation as defined in s. 08, punishable as provided in s. 327.73.
    3. Law enforcement vessels may deviate from the navigational rules when such diversion is necessary to the performance of their duties and when such deviation may be safely accomplished.
  4. Unless otherwise provided in this chapter, the ascertainment of fault in vessel operations and boating accidents shall be determined according to the navigation rules.

The last section of Fla. Stat. Sec. 327.33, subsection (4), makes clear that the operator, captain, master, or driver of a boat in the waters of Florida must obey the navigation rules. These rules are recognized throughout the United States.

Navigation Rule 5 is keep a proper lookout. This is the most often violated rule. Operators of all boats have a duty to exercise reasonable care to ensure passengers, other boaters, and swimmers are not injured. We examine whether the boat operator followed the appropriate navigation rules for the type of waterway they traveled and the type of boat being operated. Operators need to take steps to ensure that they do not collide with other boats or allide with objects or swimmers.

Boat operators, especially any boat operator that charges passengers a fee, need to take steps to ensure passengers don’t drown, aren’t hurt when entering or leaving the boat, and aren’t harmed while on the boat. Operators should ensure that they inspect their boats and educate their passengers about boating safety.

The boat operators that may be liable are the operators of the boat that you are on as a passenger or the operator of another boat. Swimmers have the right to file a Florida boating accident claim against any boat operator that causes their boat to strike the swimmer or causes the swimmer to become injured to escape an oncoming boat. The families of any passenger or swimmer that drowns or dies due to a boating accident can file a wrongful death claim against any responsible boat operator.

Most boating accidents in Florida are due to operator negligence. The question is – is anyone else liable for your boating accident injuries or the death of a loved one?

The boat owner

Generally, the owners of the boat are vicariously liable for any accidents that the boat operator causes – providing the owner gave the operator permission to use the boat. Vicarious liability means the owner is liable when the operator is liable – without the need to show the owner did anything else negligent. The owners may also be liable if the boat operator was an employee.

Boat owners should take steps to ensure the operators of the boats have the proper licenses, proper qualifications, and proper experience. Boat owners are also responsible for inspecting their boats, making repairs, ensuring the safety equipment is on the boat, ensuring that the boat is only in the waters that are designed to transport the particular type of boat involved, and for ensuring the safe operation of the boat.

The manufacturer of the vessel or boating equipment

Many boating accidents happen because the vessel or equipment has design flaws or workmanship flaws. Accidents may also occur if the instructions on how to use the boat or any equipment are unclear, wrong, or fail to include the proper warnings. If any part of the boat or boating equipment is defective, the manufacturer of the defective boat or equipment can be held strictly for any injuries or deaths that are proximately caused by the defect.

At Hickey Law Firm, we work with naval architects, marine engineers, boat handling experts, boat building experts, sea captains, safety engineers, product engineers, metallurgists, materials engineers, oceanographers, meteorologists,  and others to prove that a boat or equipment product was defective and that the defect caused the accident and the injuries like traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury,  burn injuries, broken bones, severed tendons, amputation, other serious injuries, or death.

A rental or leasing company

Many boat owners lease their boats for short-term or long-term use. The company or people that lease the boat to you or to the operator of the boat may also be liable for any personal injuries or deaths that occur. Rental companies have many of the same duties as the owners – to conduct regular inspections and maintenance, to ensure the boat has the proper equipment, to hire competent operators, and to educate the staff about boating safety.

Additional liability issues in Florida boating accidents

Other possible defendants may include any passengers who act in a reckless manner, or other third parties. No matter who caused your injuries, Hickey Law Firm want to help.

Hickey Law Firm specializes in “life changing injuries”®.  Call us first.  Call us now.  800.215.7117.

The best combination of qualifications of a lawyer for a boating accident that involves serious personal injuries is a lawyer who is double Board Certified in both Admiralty & Maritime and Civil Trial. There are only a handful of lawyers in Florida who hold both of these Board Certifications. There are even fewer lawyers who are double Board Certified and who represent injured people.

Boating accidents in Florida which we handle involve for example powerful 40’ open fisherman, center console outboard boats with multiple outboard engines the total horsepower of which is close to or more than 1000 (we have several cases with these types of boats), personal watercraft/Jet Skis (and we have several of these cases), swimmers, paddle boarders, sailors, dive boats, water skiers, and yachts.  These cases involve boats colliding with each other, boats colliding or running over jet skiers, boats colliding or “alliding” with a fixed object like a jetty, seawall, or sea bottom (running aground), and boats running over or backing over swimmers, divers, or water skiers in the water.

If you were harmed in any type of boating accident or water accident, our lawyers have the experience, tenacity, and resources to help you obtain justice. To discuss your rights after any boating accident, contact the personal injury lawyers who care. To schedule an appointment, complete our contact form or call Hickey Law Firm today. We’re based in Miami but handle maritime and boat accident claims throughout all of Florida.